A New Year in College Admission

A New Year in College Admission

Although the New Year and the new college admission cycle do not coincide, the beginning of 2022 sees us approaching the second anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic and mid-way through what will be the third admissions cycle that has faced its impact. As such, it’s a good time to take stock of how this unique international challenge has impacted the current college admission landscape:

  • College enrollment has declined as social and economic stressors impact families across the country at varying levels and complicate students’ access to school and academic resources. New student-centric application models are arising from a variety of organizations and businesses involved in the college admissions process from the applications themselves to the professional organizations to which college counseling and admission officers, among others, belong. Read more about these partnerships in this recent article from Forbes, written by a colleague in the field.
  • Education itself now looks different. The impact of the pandemic not only affected primary and secondary schools of course, but also significantly shifted how colleges do business. Many closures, re-openings, hybrid and virtual models, and the back-and-forth between them all wreaked havoc on the college experience for many students particularly in the pandemic’s first year. Now, most campuses have found a rhythm for managing infections and established clear policies and protocols to keep students safe while conducting in-person classes and living in on-campus housing. Because of the many shifts in instruction and experience, more and more families began to question the cost-benefit ratio of attending college. Figuring out a school’s policy on masks, vaccinations, and classroom instruction models became an additional part of the research process.  
  • How students research colleges has shifted, too. With more limitations on travel than our country has ever seen, students and colleges alike had to figure out new ways to engage with one another. While the option to visit campuses has returned by and large, increased virtual touch points such as college fairs, information sessions, and advanced virtual tours have continued, which should actually be viewed as a positive contribution to making the college search process more accessible.
  • Test optional policies have changed the game. There were many colleges who were test-optional long before the pandemic began; however, standardized testing had become a big business despite losing market share with the decline in things like subject tests or SAT IIs. Preparing for the SAT or ACT has also become a booming business in itself with students starting their prep work often far earlier than recommended. When the pandemic shut down opportunities to test, there was initially a great deal of panic on both the student and college side. Ultimately, colleges had no choice but to allow students to apply without the standardized markers that had become a staple portion of their review process, for better or for worse. We could spend hours debating the merits and problematic influences standardized testing has on the college admission process though we won’t do that here, but suffice it to say, with test optional policies now being the norm (with a few notable exceptions), there are still a variety of ripple effects.  While the option of applying to college without the test can remove some of the stress involved, most students are still sitting for an SAT or ACT even though they may not submit the test result in an attempt to ensure they are able to submit any data point that may help them in the process. The best approach will vary by student and their counselor will advise them as to the most appropriate course of action.
  • Application results are less predictable. Admission data and norms shift every year and can vary widely by college; however, with so many schools reviewing without standardized testing and applying different internal metrics to their review process, the change from year to year seems greater. Some students now feel comfortable applying to schools they may not have prior to test optional and colleges must now put a greater emphasis on their holistic review processes to help them interpret applications and anticipate success rates without the help of standardized testing. Colleges will figure out new effective standards to best serve their individual campuses successfully, but initially, results may look puzzling even for seasoned college admissions professionals. Students and families should speak with their counselor for guidance that supports their individual strengths, goals, and interests.

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